By Charles Davidson
Alice would’ve loved this sunny, mild May. From behind her tattered porch screen, the wizened old girl would greet every passerby on Gilbert Street. And now there are plenty of pedestrians. Not to say Alice would’ve relished a global pandemic, but she’d be the belle of her own little ball on these lush spring evenings.
“Nice day, ain’t it? He shore is getting big,” she’d holler in a nasal twang as my wife, kid, dogs, and I strolled by.
Other times, we’d see Alice motor down Gilbert in her wheelchair. In later years, she was often accompanied by a similarly senior African-American gent in his chair (Alice was white). Word around the neighborhood was that Alice had wed. At the least, they were constant companions, buzzing back and forth to Kroger, orange bike flags whipping in the breeze.
Alice departed South Ormewood Park—and presumably the living—a couple years ago. I believe she was the last of the elderly eccentrics to leave our stretch of Gilbert. The neighborhood is a little less colorful, a bit less rich, without her.
Now I make no claims to exalted neighborhood pioneer status. I moved south of I-20 in 2001 from Morningside, where I couldn’t afford a house. Plenty of neighbors preceded me. But I have been here long enough to see things change, mostly for the better.
To be sure, our pocket of intown Atlanta has hardly become Johns Creek. Thank your higher power for that. Nevertheless, the (really) older folks are gone from our few blocks. The little islands of weirdness and patches of Appalachia are still here, but are fewer and farther in between.
Alice lived in a sagging little box that she, or somebody, purchased for $28,000 in 1984, according to Fulton County records. That translates to $68,000 today. After having one owner for 34 years, Alice’s home sold twice in 2018, for $190,000 and then for $248,000 six weeks later. After a quick makeover left the place unrecognizable, the house sold for $565,000 in June 2019. I’m sure the new owners of Alice’s place are fine people. No knock on them. But they don’t sit out front and greet everybody. Nor do I. Alice did.
I always marveled at her unflagging spirit. Honestly, I barely knew the woman. Yet I know she was wheelchair-bound for years. It’s a safe bet she had limited formal education. If she had any money, she hid it. Yet she never seemed to have a bad day. I might be grumbling about some work annoyance, or the Braves blowing a three-run lead, and there would be Alice calling from her porch, making small talk that ostensibly meant little, yet could mean a great deal.
I miss Alice. I’m sure I’m not alone.